Sibanye-Stillwater has ended months of speculation of where their next investment would lie, by entering into an investment agreement with lithium producer Keliber Oy in Finland. It was well-known that the company was looking at entering the battery metals sector. The transaction is expected to be implemented soon, subject to approval by the South African Reserve Bank.
Keliber’s wholly-owned, advanced lithium project, the Keliber project, is in the Kaustinen region of Finland, one of the most significant lithium-bearing areas in Europe. Finland represents an attractive low-risk mining jurisdiction (top five jurisdiction in the Fraser Institute) and has developed a National Battery Strategy that outlines the objectives for the country to become a competitive, competent, and sustainable player in the international battery industry. Europe is rapidly becoming a leading hub for the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles and Keliber’s location in Finland enables efficient transport of lithium hydroxide to European customers.
The Finnish Minerals Group (FMG), which manages the Finnish State’s mining industry shareholdings, is the largest shareholder in Keliber and is focused on creating partnerships and co-investments with a view to developing the Finnish battery electric vehicle supply chain. Sibanye-Stillwater shares this vision and in partnership with Keliber, FMG and other shareholders, will progress the project to be the first vertically integrated lithium producer in Europe.
The Keliber project consists of several advanced stage lithium spodumene deposits, with significant exploration upside in close proximity to the existing project. Based on a feasibility study completed in 2019 and improved in 2020, Keliber currently has 9.3 million tonnes of ore reserves, sufficient for more than 13 years of operation. Planned annual production is 15 000 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide.
Production is anticipated to start in 2024. The project includes the development of a chemical plant in Kokkola, approximately 50km from the mining area, which will produce battery grade lithium hydroxide. Future lithium hydroxide production has not been committed to any offtake party.
According to Neal Froneman, CEO at Sibanye-Stillwater, lithium is viewed as one of the core metals to benefit from the significant growth forecast for the electric vehicle sector. “Our investment in Keliber represents a strategic partnership of complementary skills and capabilities and a shared vision to be a preferred provider of responsibly sourced battery grade materials for the market. The investment offers the opportunity for further geographic diversification in an attractive mining destination and the opportunity to forge long-term relationships with established lithium industry players that have a shared vision of supplying the electric vehicle supply chain. Together with FMG we have committed to make this a showcase ESG operation,” says Froneman.